About three weeks after that conversation, McClatchy submitted faxed and e-mailed questions to Shen asking for the company’s reaction to a series of allegations by former Puxin residents. He didn’t reply. Questions also were faxed to the township and district governments that signed off on ThaiHot Mansion. Neither responded with answers to the queries.
Given the Communist Party’s desires to tamp down exhibitions of the gilded classes and officials’ attempts to rein in property markets, Taihe’s initial eagerness to talk about expensive villas just before the party congress seemed strangely timed.
Taihe’s home province of Fujian was from 1985 to 2002 the setting of much of the political career of Xi Jinping, the man who’s expected to be China’s next president. Those on the firm’s board are influential in the area, including a member who served in Fujian’s provincial leadership with Xi. The chairman and president, Huang Qisen, is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to holdings listed in corporate documents, and Xi presumably would have at least been aware of him in Fujian.
But there’s no evidence that the company enjoys special treatment from Xi or his allies.
COMPLAINTS DRAW A WARNING
A group of former Puxin villagers has filed complaints at the township and district levels for the past few years, and has sent letters to Beijing seeking answers, but gotten nowhere.
“We went to the petitions office many times,” said a 61-year-old woman surnamed Wu, who asked that her full name not be used for fear of official retaliation. “When people petition at the county they’re detained; when people petition at the township they’re detained.”
From 2007 to 2010, Guo Lu and his 40-year-old son, Guo Yongshun, became embroiled in a series of lawsuits that involved Taihe and various government land bureaus. Their subsequent suits and appeals stretching to 2010 were unsuccessful.
“It cannot be said that I was surprised” by the failure, said the family’s lawyer, Liu Yajun, who’s been quoted about land-use controversies in the past by Chinese state media. “Why not? Because regarding illegal dealings like this with land and the attitude of the court . . . this is not the only case like this.”
During a recent conversation at the apartments, Guo Yongshun said it was made clear to him in 2010 that someone wanted the family to end the litigation. A passenger in the cab that Guo drives for a living directed him to a desolate spot in east Beijing, where three men with metal rods were waiting, he said. They beat out every window in the car. At the end of it, one of the men pointed a rod at him and said, “Sue again,” presumably meaning that Guo would see what happened if he did.
Guo Yongshun said he didn’t see much reason to talk about what had happened or why. All it has brought so far is trouble, he said.
As he spoke, his father got up occasionally to walk around. The step-slide of his crippled leg echoed through the room.
“They have the luxury villas there,” Guo Yongshun said. “And we are living in buildings that are like slums.”